Efficient Markov Chain Monte Carlo Methods

Youhan Fang, Purdue University


Generating random samples from a prescribed distribution is one of the most important and challenging problems in machine learning, Bayesian statistics, and the simulation of materials. Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods are usually the required tool for this task, if the desired distribution is known only up to a multiplicative constant. Samples produced by an MCMC method are real values in N-dimensional space, called the configuration space. The distribution of such samples converges to the target distribution in the limit. However, existing MCMC methods still face many challenges that are not well resolved. Difficulties for sampling by using MCMC methods include, but not exclusively, dealing with high dimensional and multimodal problems, high computation cost due to extremely large datasets in Bayesian machine learning models, and lack of reliable indicators for detecting convergence and measuring the accuracy of sampling. This dissertation focuses on new theory and methodology for efficient MCMC methods that aim to overcome the aforementioned difficulties. One contribution of this dissertation is generalizations of hybrid Monte Carlo (HMC). An HMC method combines a discretized dynamical system in an extended space, called the state space, and an acceptance test based on the Metropolis criterion. The discretized dynamical system used in HMC is volume preserving—meaning that in the state space, the absolute Jacobian of a map from one point on the trajectory to another is 1. Volume preservation is, however, not necessary for the general purpose of sampling. A general theory allowing the use of non-volume preserving dynamics for proposing MCMC moves is proposed. Examples including isokinetic dynamics and variable mass Hamiltonian dynamics with an explicit integrator, are all designed with fewer restrictions based on the general theory. Experiments show improvement in efficiency for sampling high dimensional multimodal problems. A second contribution is stochastic gradient samplers with reduced bias. An in-depth analysis of the noise introduced by the stochastic gradient is provided. Two methods to reduce the bias in the distribution of samples are proposed. One is to correct the dynamics by using an estimated noise based on subsampled data, and the other is to introduce additional variables and corresponding dynamics to adaptively reduce the bias. Extensive experiments show that both methods outperform existing methods. A third contribution is quasi-reliable estimates of effective sample size. Proposed is a more reliable indicator—the longest integrated autocorrelation time over all functions in the state space—for detecting the convergence and measuring the accuracy of MCMC methods. The superiority of the new indicator is supported by experiments on both synthetic and real problems. Minor contributions include a general framework of changing variables, and a numerical integrator for the Hamiltonian dynamics with fourth order accuracy. The idea of changing variables is to transform the potential energy function as a function of the original variable to a function of the new variable, such that undesired properties can be removed. Two examples are provided and preliminary experimental results are obtained for supporting this idea. The fourth order integrator is constructed by combining the idea of the simplified Takahashi-Imada method and a two-stage Hessian-based integrator. The proposed method, called two-stage simplified Takahashi-Imada method, shows outstanding performance over existing methods in high-dimensional sampling problems.




Skeel, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Statistics|Computer science

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